ATHENS, Ga. (AP) Senior guards Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines are proud of Georgia’s accomplishments over the last two seasons.
The Bulldogs won 41 games, earned an NCAA tournament bid and finished tied for second and third in the Southeastern Conference.
“When we came in, we did talk about doing this,” Mann said. “We had a whole bunch of goals trying, you know, to change Georgia basketball. We did it, but it wasn’t just me and him. We had Marcus (Thornton), we had Donte’ (Williams), we had Nemi (Djurisic). We’ll see how this year goes.”
For Mann and Gaines to help Georgia go farther this season, the team’s top priority is staying healthy. Last season was taxing as injuries sidelined starters a combined 21 games after the first week of January.
Mann had to play multiple positions while Gaines suffered through several setbacks and needed surgery to repair a broken foot in the offseason.
“It’s been a long, long journey from when it first happened, but I definitely say it’s been successful without surgery,” Gaines said. “I’m glad I did because the recovering would’ve been a little bit longer.”
Coach Mark Fox said Gaines and junior guard Juwan Parker, who’s recovering from Achilles surgery, have been monitored closely in practice this month.
With Mann, Gaines and Parker his three top returning scorers, Fox is considering a three-guard lineup when necessary. The Bulldogs could even go even smaller and quicker on the floor with four guards. Junior J.J. Frazier averaged 9.5 points last season. Mann and Gaines averaged around 11 points.
Fox won’t press the issue because he prefers having two front-line players most of the time, but Georgia has practiced with different combinations this month.
“Depending on how the matchups are, we are going to adjust to them and maybe go small,” Fox said. “I think it will really depend on how much progress we make (before the season).”
Without last year’s senior tandem of Thornton and Djurisic, the Bulldogs must replace their top two rebounders. Yante Maten, a 6-foot-8, 240-pound sophomore, is the top returning forward and has impressed Fox with a strong work ethic.
“There’s more minutes, more rebounds, more shots available if he’ll be aggressive,” Fox said. “I think he’s had an aggressive approach all offseason with the idea he can play a bigger role.”
Fox is likewise counting on contributions in the paint from 6-8, 250 freshman Derek Ogbeide and 6-9, 225 freshman Mike Edwards.
“They’re different from a lot of (young) big guys,” Fox said. “Physically, they’re specimens.”
Mann has been impressed with what he’s seen from the freshmen class and believes they have the talent and humility to help offset the departures of Thornton and Djurisic.
Mann said the team’s leadership and ability to adapt to injuries were the biggest reason Georgia went 21-12 last season. If the Bulldogs can stay healthy, Mann knows that he and Gaines can help the younger players adjust.
“We have a lot of veteran guys who played a lot of minutes the last few years and we know what it takes,” Mann said. “We’ve just got to whatever we need to do to get the young guys to follow.”
AP College Basketball site: http://collegebasketball.ap.org